It was great to be back in the Sky Sports NFL studio on Sunday night and, on a busy and wild evening, all eyes were on New England and New Orleans as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady went to work without each other for the first time in 20 seasons.
One weekend of NFL football is definitely not going to shape this season, but it was fascinating to see the early glimpses of Brady in a new uniform and to see New England roll out an offense that featured its most quarterback runs in a game (15) since Steve Grogan in 1977!
Let's start with Brady. He certainly had his ups and downs as he hit on 23 of 36 attempts for 239 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. His last two games in New England featured pick sixes and his first for Tampa Bay went the same way with Janoris Jenkins running back an errant ball that Brady threw well behind his receiver.
But there were signs that the Bucs will be dangerous if and when they get things straightened out. Brady showed enough arm strength to unleash a couple of beautiful deep balls that drew pass interference penalties and getting on the same page as his receivers is only going to come with more time.
Peter King, of NBC Sports, joined us on Sky Sports on Sunday evening to discuss all the big headlines of Week 1. And Peter aptly pointed out that Brady only stepped into a Tampa Bay huddle for the first time one month before taking on a Saints team among the most talented in the entire NFL. That's not enough time for even the Greatest of All Time to get up to full speed in a new system.
I think the Bucs will get things straightened out and Brady will succeed in Tampa. There will be very few games this season where Mike Evans catches just one pass, the Bucs turn it over three times, commit nine penalties and have a field goal blocked. With all that, this game still hung in the balance as it entered the fourth quarter.
Earlier on Sunday, Cam Newton took centre stage as the Patriots ran their way to a 21-11 win over the Miami Dolphins. The intent was clear from the Patriots as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels dialled up 42 running plays (for 217 yards) and just 21 pass attempts.
As for Cam? Well, he looked like the Cam we all knew and loved in his MVP season of 2015. Okay, he was not quite that good but throwing for 155 yards and rushing for 75 and two scores is not a bad way to start the year.
While I expect Brady and the Bucs to improve, my only worry with Cam is how his body holds up to the pounding he is going to take with so many designed runs. Only time will tell for a man who missed 14 games in 2019 and underwent a serious shoulder surgery in 2018. In the past, New England have morphed from one offensive approach to the other from week to week. Can they do that in the future or is the run likely to remain the focal point of their attack?
Given their passing game weapons, I would say the physical, run-first approach we saw on Sunday would offer their best route to success.
- Aaron Rodgers… What a statement Rodgers made in his first game since the first-round drafting of quarterback Jordan Love this spring. Maybe the Packers were hoping for this kind of response all along when they upset their franchise player in the offseason under the guise of "competition." Rodgers dismantled the Minnesota Vikings in a 43-34 win and delivered some breath-taking throws downfield. A-Rod threw for 364 yards, four scores and no picks in a game that was much more one-sided than the final score might suggest. A healthy Davante Adams is going to be huge for Rodgers. He caught 14 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. As for Love? He might be picking splinters out of his backside as he rides the bench for a few years to come if Week 1 is an accurate indicator.
- Young quarterbacks… It was a good Sunday night for young quarterbacks such as Gardner Minshew (Jacksonville), Josh Allen (Buffalo), Kyler Murray (Arizona) and Lamar Jackson (Baltimore). Watching Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers (he was intercepted twice in the Colts' loss to the Jags) struggle at times in Week 1, made me think that it definitely seems to be more of a young man's position now. With the exception of Minshew, all those young quarterbacks I mentioned did damage with their arms and their legs on Sunday. And Minshew himself can extend plays with his mobility. That is just not something that is in the locker of Brady, Brees and Rivers… and I think that shows at times.
- DeAndre Hopkins… One of the abiding images of the season opener in Kansas City was Deshaun Watson running for his life while hoping a receiver was going to come open downfield. I think we're going to look long and hard at the performances of the Houston Texans' receivers all season long following the offseason trade of Hopkins to Arizona. And we're going to monitor what D-Hop does in the desert. He made a sensational debut during Arizona's 24-20 win over San Francisco, catching 14 passes for 151 yards.
- The New York Jets' offense… With quarterback whisperer (he says with a heavy dose of sarcasm) Adam Gase at the helm, the Jets opened the 2020 season with three straight three and outs against the Buffalo Bills. And there was a point in their 27-17 loss to Buffalo where the Jets had just one first down to the Bills' 15. This was another game that was nowhere near as close as the final score would suggest. Sam Darnold struggled to 215 passing yards, one touchdown and one pick and really doesn't have much around him. It could be a long season in the Big Apple and one that Gase fails to survive with his job intact.
- Defenses in Atlanta and Minnesota… There is nothing worse in football than seeing a team struggle badly in the area that is supposed to be the head coach's forte. That happened on Sunday and not for the first time in Atlanta where the Falcons made another slow start to a season. In their 38-25 loss to Seattle, the Falcons gave up 383 yards and five touchdowns. It was even worse for Mike Zimmer's Minnesota defense loaded with all-stars. In their heavy loss to Green Bay, the Vikings gave up 522 yards and five touchdowns. The only way is up for each of those units after such brutal starts.
- Philadelphia's offensive line… It was always threatening to be a problem area after guard Brandon Brooks and tackle Andre Dillard went down for the year and Philadelphia's offensive line – also missing tackle Lane Johnson on Sunday – reared its ugly head in a 27-17 loss to Washington. The Eagles led by 17 before The Football Team got rolling on defense, sacking Carson Wentz eight times. The line is so hard to fix in-season and this could be a real problem for Doug Pederson's men as they move forward.
The Fast Five…
- Third-year quarterback Lamar Jackson came into this season saying he wanted to improve his deep throws and it was mission accomplished on Sunday as he hit on 11 of 13 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns on passes covering 10 yards or more. That was good enough for a perfect passer rating of 158.3. The Ravens are legit and Jackson is only getting better. Scary!
- How high has Russell Wilson raised the bar in his glorious career? He went 31 of 35 for 322 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday. He threw as many touchdown passes as incompletions but was probably not the biggest headline of the day as we looked around the league. To see Wilson put up those kind of numbers is simply not shocking – and that is a credit to him.
- The Jaguars were supposed to be tanking but they soon ended that talk with a surprise 27-20 win over Indianapolis. Gardner Minshew was the star of the show as he went 19 of 20 for 173 yards and three touchdowns but first-round cornerback C.J. Henderson also showed up in a big way, which was wonderful news given the departures of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Buoye within the past year.
- Sticking with that contest in Florida, when was the last time Philip Rivers played in a boring, one-sided game? Now with the Colts, the story remains the same for this veteran passer. He plays out a lot of thrillers while putting up big yardage totals, wins some but also loses his share of games that his team should be good enough to win. The uniform was new on Sunday night, but the Philip Rivers Story remained the same.
- Shout out to a couple of international players who contributed in a big way as the New England Patriots ran all over Miami. German fullback Jakob Johnson – from the Player Pathway Program - was clearing holes all day long, as was British offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, who celebrated his first win as an NFL starter.
Fact of the Week
Six teams who were trailing entering the fourth quarter came back to win on Sunday. Those comeback clubs were Arizona, Chicago, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, LA Chargers and Washington. It marked the most fourth-quarter comeback wins on opening weekend since nine teams fought back in Week 1 of the 2016 season.
Finish That Sentence
Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we do on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…
- From @wonkytruth… I was confident the Lions would win until… rookie running back D'Andre Swift dropped a very catchable ball at the goal-line inside the final 10 seconds. Even after Chicago took a late lead, I fancied Matthew Stafford to produce some heroics for Detroit. And he did his part. Swift only had to catch the ball and fall backwards into the endzone. Instead, his football instincts kicked in and he started to turn upfield – for some reason – losing control of the ball in the process. Stafford did his part to deliver the win. His rookie running back did not. Fine margins and all that.
- From Freddy Harper-Davis (@freddyharperdav)… Josh Jacobs will be a top five running back because… he can make defenders miss with his elusive moves. Or he can run over a would-be tackler. Oh, and he can also run away from them. And he has a real nose for the endzone as evidenced by his three scores in Las Vegas' 34-30 win over the Carolina Panthers. He may only be one game into his second NFL season, but Jacobs is already the most vital part of the Raiders' attack.
- _From Sean Hamilton (@seanhammy85)… The best rookie performance in Week 1 came from… _Clyde Edwards-Helaire and not just because he is the only player in the whole league to record a 100-yard rushing day to date. I just thought Edwards-Helaire looked so at home in Andy Reid's offense as Kansas City romped to victory over Houston. I think he is going to be an integral part of the attack this year and could become one of the big stars of this 2020 season.
- Niral Patel (@MrPotatohead9)… Tom Brady looked… his age on a few bad passes during the loss to New Orleans, most notably the throw that resulted in him being the victim of a pick six for the third game in a row dating back to last season. But as I mentioned before, he also had positive moments and look for Brady and the Bucs to get it going as the season progresses. I still think Tampa Bay will be a playoff team and win a game when they get there.
It was great to have a busy NFL opening weekend back once again and I think we can all come together as a community on Sunday nights for the remainder of what has been a wretched 2020 with the NFL serving as the most wonderful distraction. Once the games got going and the touchdowns started flying in, it was easy to forget – even for just a few hours - about Coronavirus and the issue of who was standing or kneeling for each national anthem. That is a good thing when it comes to Covid-19 – that can go and do one as far as I'm concerned! But I think the NFL and its players need to find a way to keep their strong message to end racism and social injustice going throughout the season. It must remain at the forefront of the conversation. There is a real risk that the players can distract from their own message by doing amazing things on the field every Sunday. I still want to be wowed by the NFL and its incredible storylines every Sunday, but I also want the players to continue to use their platform at these most critical of times and on this most important of all issues.